by Azita Osanloo & r & Walking It Off by Doug Peacock & r & Doug Peacock, a Vietnam vet and former Green Beret medic who now resides in Livingston, Mont., is known for his environmental radicalism, his work with grizzly bears and, perhaps most of all, for his difficult and profound friendship with Edward Abbey, who used Peacock as the model for George Washington Hayduke, a protagonist in Abbey's most famous novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang (1975).
Undoubtedly, the friendship between Peacock and Abbey will draw readers to Peacock's new memoir, Walking It Off: A Veteran's Chronicle of War and Wilderness. Indeed, the book is a kind of ode to Abbey. After Abbey's death, Peacock explains, he and three other companions drove to Arizona's Cabeza Prieta desert with Abbey's body and secretly buried him, illegally transporting a body that had not been officially certified as dead and trespassing without permits onto land where it is illegal to inter bodies. Despite the urgency and unlawfulness of the task, however, Peacock took a moment to lay in the freshly dug grave before lowering Abbey's body into it. He wanted to check the view: "bronze patina of boulder behind limb of palo verde and turquoise sky beyond branch of torote; then receiving a sign -- seven buzzards soaring above joined by three others, now all 10 banking over the volcanic rubble and riding the thermal up the flank of the mountain, gliding out and over the distant valley."
Despite the dominant image of Abbey -- ghostly and otherwise -- throughout much of the book, Walking It Off is a memoir that belongs thoroughly to its author. Peacock comes to terms with the personal loves and demons that have marked his adult life, including his love for bears and the wilderness, his experiences during the Vietnam War and the maddening Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that followed and, of course, the origin and complexities of his friendship with Abbey -- their mutual passion for the environment and their evident disdain for the developers who threaten it.
There are times when Walking It Off appears structurally incoherent. Is this a book about friendship? A book about a midlife crisis? In trying to measure (and perhaps gain distance from) his experiences, Peacock seems to be walking them off as much for himself as for his readers.